It was a fairytale occasion, held in the church of São Domingo in Lisbon, the traditional venue for royal weddings. The streets were bathed in sunshine and lined with well-wishers longing to catch a glimpse of the French bride. Arriving in open carriages there was an entourage of celebrated guests, many of them members of European royalty. The men impressively dressed in military uniforms and women wearing sumptuous gowns and lavish jewellery were cheered by crowds of onlookers.
The national anthem, Hino da Carta, resounded through the church as Amélia, on her father’s arm, proceeded down the aisle. Befitting a royal bride, her wedding gown of faille silk had a long train and the lace veil was secured by a garland of fresh orange blossom. The setting could not have been lovelier with pale blue and white decorations displaying the colours of the Portuguese monarchy.
The bride and groom were both from devout Catholic families and they were deeply in love – unusual at a time when marriages were often made to cement political alliances.
So far so good, there was as yet no sign of a backlash but seeds had already been sewn at their engagement party in Paris. The bride was a direct descendent of the unfortunate Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and the great granddaughter of the last King of the French, Philippe I. Following his abdication, the family was exiled to England for a period of 23 years and during that time Amélia was born in Twickenham.
When she was six years old, following the fall of Napoleon III, the family was allowed to return to France, much of their property was restored and they were permitted to live as normal citizens in the newly-proclaimed Fifth Republic.
Some government officials feared that Amélia’s father, Prince Philippe of Orleans, might try to reinstate the monarchy but he showed no intention of doing so. For almost 20 years the family was well accepted; that is until Amélia’s engagement to Carlos when the scale of the celebratory party held in Paris began to raise suspicions.
Reminiscent of the excesses of Louis XVI, more than 2,000 guests were invited to the grand reception. Hosting all the glitterati of society, the occasion was so splendid it caused huge public interest. When the bride departed for Lisbon in preparation for her wedding, 10,000 French citizens were at the railway station to wave her off. Amélia’s parents were there to witness the rapturous applause and good wishes of the public.
Meanwhile the Government saw the people’s support of the ex-royal family as a threat to the Republic and these serious misgivings turned into action. A few days later, as every member of the Orleans family left the country in order to attend Amélia’s wedding, the Government executed their plans.
A message was relayed to the Palace of Necessidades in Lisbon where Amelia’s parents were staying. They should not return to France, they were once again in exile. Having no other suitable alternative, Prince Philippe, his wife, son and daughters returned to England to the area where they had lived before. They took up residence in Sheen House, Richmond, never to return to France.
It was an extraordinary ending to the last royal wedding to be held in Portugal and as events unfolded Amélia was to be the country’s final queen.
Tragedy was to follow her throughout a turbulent life. Whilst riding in a carriage in Lisbon she witnessed the assassination of King Carlos and her eldest son, Crown Prince Luis. Beating off their assailant with a posy of flowers she saved the life of her youngest son. Two years later and by now the King of Portugal, Manuel was deposed by a military coup. Escaping to England and living in exile, they moved into Fulwell Park, Twickenham, a residence that was close to Amélia’s father and mother. Manuel died before his mother and produced no heirs. During World War II the Portuguese invited Amélia to return to the safety of Portugal but she declined the offer. She died in France at the age of 86 and is buried next to King Carlos in the Pantheon of the Braganças.
Words: Carolyn Kain